Another day of preparation: getting creative…

So just caught something on the news about why the city of New Orleans isn’t offering sand bags- something about the pumps and the sand ending up in the drains. Home Depot and Lowe’s have both sold out. We caught a shipment of mulch for 1.75 a bag at Home Depot and used this to help our friends at the Bell Artspace complex. Turns out they are NOT putting up the floodgates on the complex because there is no evacuation order. Seems short sighted given the flooding from Wednesday! So frustrating to know our friends will have to deal with more flooding and the damage that will be added to Wednesday’s damage.

Had 2 bags of red mulch for my garden that we put in front of the Community Book Center. Hoping for for the best.

Friday: Henrietta wondering about Barry, bulking up on protein!mm

So here’s a little update from Duchesne House this Friday morning. I’m hoping Henrietta’s protein boost of meal worms will strengthen her grip when she climbs up the tree to weather the storm. Enjoy and thank you for the positive thoughts and prayers!

FRIDAY July 12

We didn’t get the rain we expected last night. We know the rain will be heavy and that flooding is not only likely but assured. I went last night with a friend looking for sand bags and both Home Depot and Lowe’s we’re out. The city has not made any sand bags available in our Parish (Orleans). Seems strange that none are available when everything is saying we’re going to flood here in New Orleans with the Mississippi River due to rise to 19′ just 1 foot below flood stage. Doesn’t seem to allow for the imminent storm surge and heavy rainfall. Our 118 active pumps can handle 1 inch of rain the FIRST hour and 1/2 an inch every hour after not to make sand bags available yesterday when it was a perfect day to get these set in vulnerable areas. Seems like a misstep to me. But then this is my take as a new-ish resident having helped folks deal with flooding last Wednesday. We have worked with the aftermath of Katrina and have done so for the last 13 years and are very sensitive to the human impact of flooding. (Sorry, having trouble uploading the Henrietta video- will keep working)

Duchesne House update: Local flooding ahead of scheduled storms; [alternate headline: NEIGHBORS: A Mardi Gras Indian Big Chief, an RSCJ Nun and a Mexican Immigrant]

Dear Friends, I realize news travels fast and that fast news travels even faster and not necessarily at human speeds. Thank you to those who have reached out after hearing about the flooding in New Orleans after a heavy morning thunderstorm that dropped close to 10″ of water very quickly, here’s what we had on Bayou Road at 8:30am when I sloshed next door to check on our neighbors at the Community Book Center:

Luckily the water did not make it into the Book Center. Mama Vera and Mama Jen and Baba Dave stayed home. It wasn’t safe to drive. The streets were flooded. Again. We watched as the water rose across the street and ask our neighbors if they needed help getting items off the floor. It was still raining. Hard.

And a bit later just BEFORE the tornado warning (with a water spout visible over the water at UNO- their university alert system warning students to take immediate shelter):

And then a bit later AFTER the tornado warning (I think that’s the step UP from tornado watch, but we don’t get tornadoes much in Cali):

There was a report in the evening news of ONE home on Bayou St. John hit by something, bayou water spout or land-ish tornado. It was an artist, his wife and their dog who were all safe but their art collection was destroyed as the roof was ripped off the home they had built after Katrina. That flooding.

That’s when I thought about a friend who lives next door to Chief David Montana. Her side of the street always floods and she’s on the first floor. I texted. She was fine she said and when I asked about Chief David she said his entire floor got flooded. Again. It’s sadly happened before. Sr. Bonnie called and offered to bring over our shop vacuum to help clean up. It’s a vacuum in our garage the students sometimes use to clean out the rental vans after their week with us, working. It’s also a wet vac. Handy, I thought to help clean up, maybe jimmy the drain spout with a water hose and make it a pump. Genius, I thought. So we loaded up our cars and drove the few blocks to Chief David’s house. Wow. We had to park our cars a block away because the street was too flooded to pass. Sr. Bonnie and I sloshed our way lugging our cleaning/pumping materials a block up to Chief David who must have had 4″ of water in his apartment. His neighbors had all scrambled to help each other lift items up to try and keep them wet- art pieces. It’s in the Bell Artspace building on Ursuline Street, once an Ursuline convent and school, now a cool artist building as our visitors and mission partners know so well.

So armed with a shop vac and an open hand, a Mardi Gras Big Chief, a Nun and a Mexican Immigrant got to work and helped our neighbors clean up.

We tried to get the media to help us out and see how crazy this was. It was a brand new building. With artists and senior citizens. Who were cleaning up on their own. Again. No one in building management came in and no one was responding. We thought maybe the media can help make sure they get this right. But it seemed like the news reporters were more focused reporting on roads, on the Sewerage and Water Board and on the pumps (which and how many were or weren’t working etc.) and the streets — which were flooded. Again. And people got flooded. Again. And lost belongings, and time and many relived unhappy memories of other floods. Again. Our visitors hear from our Mission partner, the Rev. Dr. Denise Graves about trauma, and the affect trauma has on an already vulnerable and traumatized community. She also shares about the resiliency of community and of tight knit neighbors and neighborhoods. So after a quick MacHardy’s chicken run and break thanks to Sr. Bonnie

We got back to work. Each time the shop vac filled we dumped out about 12 gallons of water. It took about a minute for the vacuum to fill. We emptied many, many, many shop vac buckets out Chief David’s window. The same window he describes to our students that used to be the window of his elementary school classroom when he was a little boy. He now lives in what was once his old math classroom from which he’d sometimes sneak out. Now he teaches kids about staying in school and learning more about their own cultures. That’s our friend, Big Chief David Montana. We filled and emptied a shop vac precariously perched on that old math window sill for about 3 hours until we got it done.

Tried to call the news to be in our photo op, but no word. So we moved on to help the neighbors:

This last gentleman is an amazing artist from Haiti who thankfully had all of his art pieces off the floor. Zoom in to see his work:

Another elderly gentleman with mobility challenges needed his home shop vacuumed. We managed to toss his saturated area rug out the window. Darn, I just remembered he asked me to make sure I helped close it before I left. I’m sure a neighbor helped him out. That’s what neighbors do.

There’s more to come and we should soon know more about Barry. We’ll post an update. Peace and apologies to our last group, our Summer Network Service project, Healthy Waters. We just can’t take a chance and want to ensure you all are safe, so please keep us and our neighbors in your thoughts and prayers. Stay tuned and we have so appreciated your support for our work here in New Orleans. We hope to have a viewing party for our August 5th Closing Party thanking all of our mission partners and neighbors for their amazing support. We’d love to have you tune in and help us say good-bye to Duchesne House for Volunteers on Bayou Road.

Thursday: being present to stories

Today we visited with Mr. Robert Green a resident of the Lower Ninth Ward, blocks from where a barge broke through the Industrial canal levee. He opened his home and his heart to us, sharing the hope he’s found after having his house swept away and watching his mother and his granddaughter lose their lives before getting rescued. We walked to the site where their house crashed into an oak tree. The tree bears a painting of a representation of that harrowing moment.

From there we visited the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum and learned more about this forgotten neighborhood where Mr. Green says he wants to have more neighbors. The Living Museum is also home to the Leona Tate Foundation. Ms. Tate (along with Ruby Bridges) was one of the early children to suffer the brunt of the desegregation of schools in New Orleans.

It was awe inspiring to be in the presence of two amazingly courageous individuals who suffered so much and have lived their lives making the world a better place.

We returned to Duchesne House for a discussion and to continue our work on Race by watching Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequity and then had our last meal together at the world famous Parkway Bakery for po’boys.

And we ended our day with the he girls exchanging their school gifts and our Closing Ceremony where they shared what light they’ll be taking back:

We say goodbye tomorrow morning and send our young leaders home with hearts stretched and a charge to not just share the information they learned but to inspire the transformation that our Sacred Heart education calls for. “Now that you know.”

Wednesday recap

We arrived back in New Orleans and stopped by Studio Be to finish up our Civil Rights day with New Orleans’ own artist BMike’s studio before coming back to Duchesne House for dinner and a wrap up conversation. It was a day filled with challenging images of injustice and the students engaged the conversation, sharing from their own perspectives. All agreed that conversations about race are difficult and yet necessary. We have one more full day tomorrow and will head to the Lower Ninth and visit the Living Museum. Some photos of the museum, Studio Be and our dinner gathering:

History is the Glue

A recap of the first part of the day by Mary, Maria and Bianca:

At dinner we were joined by Rev. Dr. Denise Graves who walked us through a debrief of Sunday’s visit to the Whitney Plantation, speaking to the systems involved in the institution of slavery. These conversations are deep and powerful and we always close with a song to lift our spirits and bring us together as a family. Here’s our song:

Mama Denise made me look at things in a new perspective. She made me realize there are multiple perspectives to look at in every story that are important. She helped me understand the weight of the lives lost throughout centuries of slavery and we talked about the humanity of each individual and the importance of seeing those killed as individuals, rather than a group, which inherently dehumanizes them. Mama Denise also listened to what everyone said and genuinely wanted to know what our story or opinion was. I love all the passion I saw in her and how wise she is. She is a very wise talented woman, she speaks multiple languages which is very impressive. I aspire to be as loving, confident, and intelligent as she is.

– Bianca